Posts Tagged ‘start-up’

In the last two months we’ve narrowed our focus and have a short list of priorities. The funding pipeline is coming together well. These things take time and we still have several hoops to jump through, but there’s very little uncertainty on what we have in front of us.

First of all, we had our second conference call with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This went well and we’re looking forward to another conversation in January to work on a specific grant proposal.

We’ve also talked to Knewton, a company that specializes in adaptive recommendation systems that specifically target how students learn. We both felt our two companies had a high potential for integrating services and research data. we’ll be following up with them soon.

We’ve also been talking to New Schools Venture Fund and once we get through the pilot phase, they may become a valuable partner.

Our next steps include usability testing in a few Chicago area schools and then the pilot in spring.

We do have one critical need as far as personnel is concerned. We’re looking for a seasoned academic research partner that studies how students learn and can guide is on the bigger picture. This person would probably work with our story development team and Knewton to determine the taxonomy of any given subject matter. That taxonomy would lead directly to the types of stories and story content we develop.

This has become a very interesting pivot to date. We’re looking forward to the results of our testing and pilot to see where Textfyre fits in the classroom.

One last thing. If you want to do a little usability testing for us, just send is an email and we’ll connect you with the current online application (as bare as it is).

Advertisements

For several reasons, the velocity of Textfyre development (business, technology, and content) has been measured in spoonfuls. To say it has been a slow process is an understatement. Some of this had to do with the economy, some to family stuff (my youngest is nearly 8 years old now), and some to the business climate. Regardless of those impediments, Textfyre is moving forward at a much faster pace.

To start, I recently joined a digital start-up office in Chicago called 1871. So far this has only provided a workplace in downtown Chicago, but it has amenities that will help us grow.

I put out feelers for new team members, all on the business side. I always knew that Textfyre could not truly be successful without partners and now I’m actively seeking people to fill roles like finance, marketing, product development manager, website geek, and so on.

I still have all of my interactive fiction contacts, although some are less available than others. I’m pretty sure though that if Textfyre finds cash, we’ll be able to hire enough IF talent to do the work I envision.

I have not signed anyone to agreements yet, but I have found people who may fill finance, marketing, art direction, and investor relation roles. Once these positions are solidified, I will introduce the people to you through this blog and on the upcoming face lift to the Textfyre.Com website, which is not the website I had promised in recent months. That website will be turned into a pay-for service, which is a topic for another post. The new website will be corporate, informational, and professionally implemented (um, not by me).

I will continue to push our two flagship fictional IF games through the Kindle, iPad, Android, and soon Windows 8, but these types of products are unlikely to be our focus for an unknown period of time. We’ll get back to traditional IF at some point, but we’re going to work on something else for the near-term.

I have also been very busy networking and this has been paying off in the highest level of contacts. If we’re to succeed, we’re going to need every partner we can muster, and getting to know the bigger players will help us define and execute our goals all the more efficiently.

If you’re interested in pitching, we’re going to be meeting at 1871 regularly. Drop me a note and tell me how you think you can make Textfyre successful.

I know no one gets excited about vaporware, but the new Textfyre website will address some of the issues Jim talks about here.

Based on my work on Zifmia, which is a client-server engine based on FyreVM, which is a .NET implementation of the Glulx specification, I have been able to build a new Textfyre website. This new website is intended to be a portal for client-server Interactive Fiction games.

Here is the scenario I envision for the portal:

An author uploads a gblorb file that contains their game and images. In setting up their game, they select a template, which is used to display the game in any supported browser, including mobile and tablet browsers. The template is made up of JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. The author may offer their own template and a way to test templates locally will be enabled. The ability to use the portal in an IFRAME will also be available, allowing the author to show the game on their own website or blog. Facebook integration is an important part of the future of Textfyre’s strategy as well.

Games are played in a standard fashion, but mostly based on whatever template is devised. The template I’m working on is a hybrid of things we’ve seen over time and a slightly out of date version can be seen at http://beta.textfyre.com.

One of the major differences with the portal is that every turn of every game is saved on the Textfyre servers, in the cloud. If you play the game on any connected device, you will never lose your places. Save, Restore, and Undo become irrelevant. The user interface will have a mechanism to jump to any turn the user has played. If they type a new command at a previous turn, the history branches. These branches are displayed to the user and can be panned and zoomed and reviewed.

Obviously, this is a connected service. Future implementations may include client-side storage, but it’s not on the radar today.

I have Cloak of Darkness working as an example. I’m still (slowly) working on the standard template and Shadow will be implemented as a pay-to-play game when the site is released publicly. Secret Letter will follow and we’re working on getting Empath’s Gift completed, at which time it will also become a part of the portal.

I would love for an author to step up and offer to work with me on the standard template or a new template for their own game. If anyone is interested, let me know. This is mostly going to be undoing any Glk specific code in your game file and replacing it with FyreVM stuff and then working on the client-side code.

So I’ve been attending an entrepreneur conference in Chicago this weekend and I’ve found the whole thing very interesting.

First there was the keynotes, which underlined the nature of Chicago’s seeming up and coming start up nature. And then a couple of sessions I attended were quite volatile.

The Education 2.0 session had very passionate people arguing about content and censorship, about rural Internet access, and that the start up world is looking at web 10.0 as opposed to the schools systems just sort of figuring out and having meetings on web 2.0. I ended up getting contact info from a VP at Britannica and the CTO of the Chicago Public Schools. Both seemed genuinely interested in reviewing IF and helping us work in classrooms.

Saturday morning I attended a session on responsive web design, which essentially showed how you can use the @media screen tag to create alternate views of your site based on max width, resolution, and other criteria. Very helpful if you want to create HTML for multiple devices and have it change based on CSS criteria alone.

Another morning session was on social data and this too seemed to catch people’s attention. The general concern is that there could, and already is, a sort of “character rating system” which will compile data on all of your purchase history, your social history, employment history, financial records, and allow someone to segment the population by who should be provided an easier path to wealth than others. Do you go to the library or the bar? Do you purchase healthy foods? Do you read comic books or economic journals? Do you maintain a savings account? What sort of things to you say on Facebook or Twitter? This seems both inevitable and deeply frightening.

The last session for Saturday was about Gamification and the panel was made up of iconic game designers involved in Mortal Combat, Tony Hawk, Call of Duty, and more. The discussion talked about rubberbanding games and then using social media and various kinds of rewards to keep people at a website.

I’m taking Sunday off to decompress and assimilate everything. I had not planned to attend the Monday sessions, but it looks like it has most of the entreprenurial content. It looks like a must-attend day from Textfyre’s perspective.

The life of an entrepreneur is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. For all of the Mark Zuckerberg’s in the world, there are thousands of guys like me. We have a vision, a passion, a singular belief that we can create something special. We will scrounge up dollars to keep our servers running, scramble to networking events that just might lead us to an important contact, and endure ridicule and debasement for our “fantasy”. Our families don’t get it at all. Our friends are supportive, to a point. Our advisors are helpful, but excruciatingly and irritatingly calm and collected. We ourselves either lose weight or gain weight, eat badly, sleep horribly (if at all), and do poorly at our regular jobs because we’re simply not inspired by the grey cube walls of doom.

And yet we persevere. We find inspiration in little things. We continue to poke and prod our network. To find new ways to develop our business plan. To bring new advisors into the mix. To improve our product plans. To find new customers. We think about our business and work on some aspect of it every single day. Some days for hours and hours. Some days for only a few minutes.

We believe with every fiber of our being that our plan is solid and it can succeed. We believe that we’re doing something worthwhile and good. Something that will create jobs that people will love. Something that will create products that people will love. Something that will make the world a better place.

I’ve been working on Textfyre for over four years. We have two published products. A third product incredibly close to being published. A new business plan. New markets (Kindle, iPad). New authors. New Advisors. We still have people investing their time in Textfyre and believing that it can succeed. We have great tools and great plans for new games.

We’re not Facebook and we’re not an overnight sensation. But we’re still working at making a great company, even if it takes years and not hours to get there. We’re still working.

I’ve been avoiding talking about the behind the scenes aspects of developing Textfyre because it hasn’t gone all that smoothly. It’s been a struggle almost from the beginning and I’m now going to share some of the things that have held us back.

I’ve been married for a little over 12 years now. My wife and I have five awesome kids. One of the things that developed over time in my relationship with Irene was that she decided she didn’t like the ups and downs of consulting. I’ve been independent on and off and also worked at several consulting firms during our marriage and either the hours or the stress of finding “the next client” always caused her enormous anxiety. I admit, the lifestyle is not for everyone.

Some people argue that when you have kids, you shouldn’t take any risks. Some people think that you live your life and your kids learn from that. These aren’t necessarily competing priorities if both parents share the same philosophy, but when you don’t, success is very difficult. Something has to give.

There are other, personal aspects to my marital difficulties, but the fundamental difference is choice in lifestyle. After twelve years of never really figuring out how to accommodate each other, my wife and I are divorcing. The discussion started well before Textfyre was created. Then the legal divorce process started in July of 2008. It’s mostly amicable and we’re sharing the kids jointly and will live close to each other.

In working through the divorce, the economy tanked. Up until March of last year, I was making a considerable amount of consulting income. Enough to take care of personal finances and significantly fund Textfyre and incur no debt outside of a mortgage and a couple of car payments. The economic downturn strangled the investor pool that drove my client, OneDegree.Com, out of business. After that, I couldn’t find work from April through mid-December. It was financially devastating to say the least. There were some very close calls keeping the servers up at times.

Through all of this turmoil, I have managed to keep Textfyre afloat, although certainly not at any pace or direction that I originally planned. A few people have switched gears to leave the work as a lower priority, which is understandable. Some people understand that in any start-up there are “hard times” and are willing to push through. Some people just have to get paid every week or every invoice to keep working. I can’t fault anyone for doing what’s in their own best interests. I very much appreciate everyone that has worked on Textfyre’s development whether they continue to do so or not.

Now the good news. We’re not going anywhere. We’ve struggled to make it this far and we’re very close to doing some amazing things. The iPhone, iPod, and native OS X versions of games are around the corner. The third game is nearing beta and a fourth series is now in the design phase.

I’ve made a personal commitment to help do outreach for the larger hobbyist community because through that process I actually learn how to do my job as owner of Textfyre better. I still learn new things about IF all the time, about how its perceived, about how to develop it, what works and what doesn’t. This is really a never-ending learning process.

As of June 15th I will be divorced and my personal financial situation will both improve and degrade at the same time. I won’t be able to take some of the risks I’ve taken in the past, but I will be able to support and direct Textfyre better than I have in the last two years.

By the way, If anyone’s thinking that Textfyre caused my divorce, that’s silly. Textfyre was a result of knowing that I was going to be divorced.

I don’t plan to share personal information often, if ever again. I just thought that those reading this blog should understand how divorce and the economy can impact a start-up business.